Jiarui Sun

Ph.D. Student, EALC
Méng Cuteness, Danmu Semiotics, and Cyber Nationalism in Year, Hare, Affair


Time: Friday, March 6th, 3-5 pm

Location: Center for East Asian Studies 319 (1155 E. 60th St.)

Discussant: Alex Murphy, Ph.D. Candidate, EALC


The Art and Politics of East Asia (APEA) workshop is proud to host Jiarui Sun (Ph.D. Student, EALC), who will present her paper “‘ALMIGHTY ME RABBIT!’ Méng Cuteness, Danmu Semiotics, and Cyber Nationalism in Year, Hare, Affair” next Friday. She summarizes her paper as follows:

Around mid-2000s, Chinese internet users picked up méng(萌),[1] etymologically meaning “to sprout,” as a slang that roughly translates into “cuteness.” Despite its daily interchangeable usage with ke’ai or cuteness, méng has an additional affective layer that can be incorporated for nationalist agenda. I focus on the nationalist animation Year, Hare, Affair, whose méng animal characters and emotionally-charged fandom reactions popularized a nationalist narrative in line with the party-state’s socialist ideology on Chinese internet. As a derivative category of cuteness, méng has its anachronistic impulse that probes the subject to both embody an infantile performance of a child and project the childlike mentality into the future. The méng elements in the animation engage viewers with sadomasochist feelings mixing both vulnerability and violence, harmlessness and manipulation, sincerity and playfulness. By watching the animation and typing in real-time comments, viewers of the animation are becoming both supporters of the méng characters and a part of the méng spectacle itself. In this way, méng serves as an affective mechanism that allows online nationalists to come across as cute fan girls or méng rabbits on social media. Unlike its Japanese synonyms kawaii (commonly used in real life) and moe (usually used in anime and manga fandom), méng resides between real life and virtual world. Weaving real-life passions with cyber avatars, méng is particularly convenient for China’s propaganda apparatus to incorporate and accommodate a bottom-up nationalism that is powerful enough to manipulate public attention, docile enough to surveillance, and intimate enough to appeal to viewers. Thus, méng in the production and consumption of Year, Hare, Affair formulates and sustains a nationalist semi-virtual presence that coordinates the state’s quest for soft persuasion and the internet’s inclination for decentralization.

[1] I’m using a diacritic to mark méng(萌) here in order to differentiate it from the mèng in Zhōngguó Mèng (the Chinese Dream,中国梦), a phrase put forth by Xi Jinping since 2013 as a set of ideals for the Chinese society. Because Zhōngguó Mèng as a governmental discourse has already caught attention among scholars interested in Chinese nationalism, I find it necessary to mark the bottom-up méng subculture differently for the sake of clarity.


Refreshments will be provided. We look forward to seeing you at the workshop!

Jiayi Chen and Sabine Schulz
Co-coordinators, Art and Politics of East Asia Workshop

For questions related to accessibility or accommodations for those who may need assistance in order to participate, please contact jiayic@uchicago.edu and sabines@uchicago.edu.


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